For parents and caregivers of multiple children, keeping the peace among siblings can seem like a full-time job in and of itself. Siblings may fight for a parent’s attention, they may fight over a toy, or they may fight because their developmental levels are so different from one another that it’s hard for them to relate to each other. If siblings have opposing temperaments, such as when one is laid back and one craves a rigid routine, they may also bicker constantly because they are simply wired differently, making it hard for them to connect.
Fortunately there are things parents and caregivers can do to help keep the peace among siblings.
Allowing them their own space. Siblings spend most of their time together, and often it is not by choice. Allowing each child to have their own space and to play independently can help defuse feelings of resentment. While siblings should of course learn to play nicely together, allowing children to play alone at times gives them permission to take a much needed break from a sibling when needed. When a child says he wants to play alone, insisting other children allow him to do so provides an opportunity to teach about respect.
Allowing them their own things. While most of the toys in your home will be available for any and all children to use, each child should have a few cherished toys that they aren’t required to share. When children have their own things they are forced to take responsibility and ownership of them. Having a few toys that are share-free can help children to feel like individuals, which is important for their self-esteem.
Laying the ground rules.When it comes to acceptable and unacceptable treatment of siblings, the rules should be clear and few. Your rules may read something like this: “In our home we are kind to our siblings. We don’t hurt our siblings with our hands or our words.” Make a simple sign and hang it on the fridge so everyone is reminded of the rules.
Staying out of it. At all costs, parents must avoid taking sides. Trying to assign blame or figure out who did what only makes the situation worse. When safety isn’t an issue, stay out of it for as long as possible to give the children a chance to work it out on their own. If you do need to intervene, instead of trying to referee, insist that both children stop doing whatever they’re doing wrong.
Teaching them to talk it out.For a child, learning to communicate their feelings with words, rather than fists, doesn’t always come naturally. Get out a paper towel tube and give it to one child at a time. Encourage them to use “I and when” statements to communicate their feelings with words rather than fists. “I feel hurt when you won’t let me play trucks with you.” While you may have to model and coach them through their dialogue at first, teaching them to talk it out is a life lesson that’s worth the time invested in instruction.
Insist they kiss and make up. When the children fight, encourage the instigator to apologize and say something nice to his sibling. When you do this, it forces the child to consider something nice about his sibling and allows the child who was hurt to hear something nice about himself. Teaching children to never go to bed angry is another life lesson worth teaching.
Appreciate each child. While it can be tempting to compare siblings, don’t. Appreciate each child for the unique being she is. If one child loves dance and the other baseball, encourage them to each pursue their own interests and passions. Don’t expect all siblings, even twins, to be cut from the same mold. As each child is unique, so is each sibling.
Spend time alone with each child. Carving out one-on-one time for each child every day can significantly reduce sibling rivalry. Each child wants to know that they are special to you and valuable enough to have your undivided attention. Whether it be giving each child a bath, reading a book to each child before bed or going for a short walk with each child after dinner, spending time with each child individually is vital to helping siblings to get along.
Foster a friendship. Your children are siblings by blood, friends by choice. Encourage your children to become friends. Provide opportunities for them to help and support each other. From attending school events in support of each other, to getting a diaper for a baby sibling, adopting an “I am here to help and support you” attitude in your children will foster lasting friendships for life.
Praise good behavior. When you see your children treating each other kindly and with respect, call them out on it. “I saw how you shared your last piece of candy with your brother. That was so kind and something a good friend would do. I am so proud you made the choice to share.” When you call attention to desirable behavior, you naturally reinforce it.
While almost all siblings will bicker and argue from time to time, with a little planning and support from parents and caregivers, the overall relationships between siblings can be peaceful.
It is a wonderful gift to be able to see your grown children truly become best friends, and be there for each other. pb